Caring for the Difficult Parent

manage-angry-hostile-elderly-parents-800x800I close out the Modern Family series this weekend with a talk about the care for aging parents. There’s only so much you can pack into a 30 minute message. So, I want to share some thoughts here about dealing with difficult aging parents.

Don’t look to your parent for approval. We don’t seem to outgrow the desire for mom and dad’s approval. In a difficult parent scenario, you’ll never find what you’re craving. Face it now, you’ll never get it right, just do you’re best. Don’t live for your parent’s approval, but stand in Christ’s approval.

Create time and space boundaries to protect yourself, spouse and children. The care demands can be significant and often become overwhelming with a difficult parent. It will drain you emotionally, physically and spiritually. Practice self-care strategies to refuel. You can’t do or be everything for your parent. Schedule your commitments with a begin and end time. You have a responsibility to care for your parent, do not do so at the expense of your spouse or child.

Choose your battles and focus on the major issues. Not every detail needs to be addressed. Choose wisely the issues to tackle. Don’t let every scenario become a disagreeable moment with a difficult parent.

Be loving and firm in your decision making. Be persistent in the important stuff.

Honor doesn’t mean obey. As a child, we honored parents in obedience. As an adult, we honor them in respect. We respect by caring, making good decisions on their behalf and assisting them to live out their desires. As cognitive ability diminishes, it is inappropriate for you to respond to every request or whim. You can certainly disagree with your parents and still respect them.

Depend on others to assist and care. Let other help you care for your aging parents whether paid or volunteer. If you try to do it all, you’ll burn out. If you burn out, you’ll live in bitterness toward your parents. Bitterness while they’re alive produces regret once they’re gone. Don’t live there.

Don’t fall into the guilt trap. As people age, there’s the potential for greater manipulative, demanding and less rational behavior. Don’t fall prey to these tactics or the guilt they produce.

Accept the relationship for what its become even if it is disappointing and dysfunctional. Sometimes we lose a parent before death. It’s okay to mourn the relationship’s death, but learn to accept the new reality of a very different relationship, personality or behaviors.

This is where grace becomes practical. Demonstrate it well through wisdom and forgiveness. I’m not sure we ever fully understand the implications of our actions upon another. Don’t try and hold them responsible now. Know that just because you care for a difficult parent today doesn’t justify or give you permission to become that difficult parent tomorrow. Learn valuable lessons now about how you can best assist your children’s care for you someday.


12 thoughts on “Caring for the Difficult Parent

  1. Sue

    We have gone through this with all 4 of our parents in one way or another. One day soon it will be our turn to be the aging parents. I appreciate all the thoughts you have shared from both standpoints.

    1. Brad Hoffmann Post author

      Sue, thanks for the comment. And, you’re right, the “aging parent” category is getting closer and closer :)

  2. Nancy jackson

    Very well stated!! True and useful points, that you do not fully understand until you experience this.

    1. Brad Hoffmann Post author

      Hi Nancy, thanks for the comment. I appreciate your input on the topic too!

  3. Dixon Murrah

    An extremely important part of caring for aging parents is that of making sure we do not hold any negative feelings toward them. According to the Bible (and psychology) a negative feeling toward anyone is really toward God. Be sure to forgive parents and thank God for them, the way they were/are and what they did or din’t do (Eph. 5:20).

    1. Brad Hoffmann Post author

      Dixon, absolutely. You make a good and necessary point. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Vanessa Wagner

    Your message touched our hearts today. My father has lived with us for 15 years. These past four years have been the most difficult. Many, many health problems. We do have family support, but the day in and day out, every day is extremely stressful, especially since David and I work full time also. My father is a true gentleman, certainly not a difficult parent, so we are very blessed in this sense. Thank you for the message today.

    1. Brad Hoffmann Post author

      Vanessa, thank you for commenting. I appreciate you sharing your story. You and David are to be commended for caring well for your dad.

  5. Renee Norman

    Dear Pastor Hoffmann,
    A family friend who attends your church and is a Sunday school teacher, brought your blog to my attention. He knows how important it is to me to prepare caregivers for their often difficult path. Thank you for discussing this topic honestly. 29% of adults in the US are unpaid caregivers. Caregiving is a huge area of learned expertise which needs to be addressed honestly. My website has immediate tools for those in a caregiving situation, My book works to teach and prepare caregivers for their path. It also discusses openly some of the challenges, especially emotional challenges, that are NOT like the movies! Caregivers need support, tools and education on how to be an advocate for their loved one and deal with challenges facing them, their family and their loved one. Please let me know if I can be of service.
    Best regards,
    Renee Norman

    1. Brad Hoffmann Post author

      Hi Renee, thank you for the introduction and I’m glad we’ve connected. Thanks for the link and for the resource of your book. This is definitely a topic that needs more attention and discussion. Thank you for your availability.

  6. Janet Thompson

    I am glad that I got to read this since we were out of town for the weekend.
    I took care of my father-in-law during the last months of his life with brain cancer. He was not himself, but God granted me strength, wisdom, humor and love to care for him for his family. I cared for my mom long-distance the last four years of her life. I have cared for my husband’s mom in our home off and on in her elder years due to declining health. Now I care for my father long-distance as he lives independently in the home my parents shared.
    With my parents, it has been easy to take care of them because I knew them so well, and could gloss over times when they were not at their best, because they are my beloved parents, and they cared for me in less than lovely times. With my husband’s parents, it has required the extra measure of the Holy Spirit, because though we have been in-laws for 34 years, I don’t know them as well, nor have I understood them at times. I have felt it was my responsibility because I am the only one who does not have a paying job, and have asked God to help me, so that I can help his family. I can’t say that it has been easy, but it has been necessary, and God has blessed me. Now his mom requires more care than I can give her in order for her to continue to live independently as she wishes in the home in which she raised her family.
    Part of loss of Eden is this continual decline of our bodies. It requires that we turn loose of the relationships we have enjoyed so long, and it is worrisome and ultimately wrenching.

    1. Brad Hoffmann Post author

      Janet, thanks for sharing part of your story. It’s definitely are real issue of struggle as we attempt to find best solutions in caring for the older adults in our families.

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